Drug Policy as Conservation Policy: Narco-Deforestation

Drug Policy as Conservation Policy: Narco-Deforestation


Central America exploded into prominence as a drug trafficking corridor in the last decade. The authors documented that an unprecedented flow of cocaine into Central America “coincided with a period of extensive forest loss”. The authors discuss the evidence that supports the idea that "trafficking of drugs (principally cocaine) has become a crucial—and overlooked—accelerant of forest loss” in Central America.

Conclusions & Takeaways

The authors mention three mechanisms by which forest loss follows the establishment of a drug transit hub: (I) Drug traffickers cut down forests to establish secret roads and aircraft landing strips; (II) Drug money amps up the pressure on weakly governed frontier areas, resulting in “narco-capitalized” land speculators, resident ranchers, oil-palm growers, land speculators and timber traffickers. In the process, local small (indegenous) landowners get priced out who are often key forest defenders. Forest governance at higher levels is also eroded by violence and corruption; (III) Drug trafficking organizations are themselves drawn into local forest-to-agriculture development plans like pastures and oil-palm plantations. Buying up and developing land is a preferred method of laundering drug money. These vague “narco-estates” monopolize land use in some territories and serve as cover for expanded smuggling operations. The researchers suggest that the heart of the problem is the traditional emphasis on supply-side policies, such as interdiction and crop eradication on foreign soil.


McSweeney K, Nielsen EA, Taylor MJ, et al. Drug Policy as Conservation Policy: Narco-Deforestation. Science. 2014;343:489–490. doi:10.1126/science.1244082.


  • Department of Geography, Ohio State University, Columbus